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Ex-convict learns how to help the hard way

Indonesian center offers former inmates a second chance

Ex-convict learns how to help the hard way

Yohanes Bambamg Mudiarto has found new life after prison

Ryan Dagur, Jakarta

July 31, 2013

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Yohanes Bambamg Mudiarto never thought he would end up in prison. But after holding a knife to his business partner, he was sentenced to nine months behind bars in March 1998.

“I was so upset. He cheated me,” he says.

Bambang found it hard to live with the confinement and squalor of prison life, and when he was freed things did not get much easier. Bambamg, 47, says he lost self esteem and wanted to hide from people.

“No one welcomed me until an institution run by a Protestant church in South Jakarta allowed me to work there for about five months,” he says.

Bambang's difficulties in building a new life after spending months behind bars has since motivated him “to do something to help other ex-prisoners.”

In 2006, he started a small video games kiosk where he hired ex-prisoners but the business only lasted two years. Then he thought about helping ex-convicts in a more organized way.

Bambang received help from a friend in setting up a small training facility for ex-prisoners in Bekasi, West Java in 2008. A Catholic since birth, Bambang had Rumah Socius blessed by Father Josaphat Kokoh Prihatant, an advisor at the center.

“In Rumah Socius, ex-prisoners are encouraged to let go of all burdens and to live a normal life,” says Bambang.

In the past five years, the center has worked with 40 ex-prisoners convicted for crimes ranging from drug abuse to murder, helping them find jobs as taxi drivers, sailors and mechanics.

Whatever they make and sell is added to funds from donors to pay each of them a monthly allowance of between 600,000 and one million rupiah (US$63 to $105) per month.

Many of the activities are Christian-focused. Some ex-prisoners at the center are currently learning how to make Church-related images such as the nativity, Mother Mary and rosaries, even those who are Muslim.

There have been suggestions that Bambang hand the center over to Jakarta archdiocese but he has refused over concerns that an overtly Christian initiative might scare off some ex-prisoners in this majority Muslim country.

Ivan, a Muslim who has stayed at the center for the past five years, said he had no complaints about the Christian theme. Bambang had been an inspiration, he said, adding that religious difference was not a concern.

“For me, he is like my own father who I can share stories with whenever I have problems,” said the 28-year-old. “He even helped cover my wedding ceremony.” 

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